Chatfilter, but only sort of
May 28, 2012 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Need help finding a new chat solution for a far-flung group. Our core group of friends is spread across the US and Canada. Part of what keeps us so close is the private chat room we've had for the last 10 years or so. Sadly, the current owner of this is shutting it down, and we need to find a new place to hang out. I've been tasked with finding the solution. To head off the inevitable question, no we can't take over the existing site, for multiple reasons that I don't want to go into. Currently we're using phpMyChat 0.14.5, hosted on a back alley page of the owner's primary site. Are newer versions of phpMyChat going to have similar features? And how do I get one? Needs/requirements inside...

Things we need as a group:
- Static site. This needs to be a permanent room, that any member can go to at any time via a specific url, not a 'create a room and invite your friends to chat now!' one-time shot. Since we're all over the place, and all have busy lives, the ability to pop in whenever is very, very high. This leads to...
- History. Current setup lets us 'read back' up to 30 hours of content, so that we can communicate back and forth, even if we're not all in at the same time. 'oh, Suzy said she's going to run a marathon today. Way to go, Suzy, we'll be thinking of you!'
- multiple colors (preferably that 'stick'). It's much easier to follow a conversation if each person is in a different color.
- PRIVACY. This needs to be a private, invite-only setup, with usernames and passwords.
- Online utility, not an app. Members should be able to access via url, without installing any software or apps. Needs to work for PC and Mac, on most standard web browsers.
- Pictures - the ability to share an occasional picture would be nice, but not critical.

Things I need as the new owner:
- Invite power. Need the ability to set up users initially by assigning them a username and temporary password, which they would be able to change at their first login. On the current system, the owner assigned both the username and password, and you couldn't change your password. These seems weird to me.
- EASY. Ability to easily send an invite to a new member. Current setup, supposedly it's very difficult to create a new user, so there were rarely new additions. (I don't know if this was actually true, or just a weird quirk of current owner as a control tactic. whatever).
- Point and click admin. Need the admin side of this (sending invites, setting up members/resetting passwords, whatever), to be super easy. I am not a technical creature. I need a turnkey operation - I'd like for whoever sets this up to hand me the url and basic instructions, and I'd be able to start sending invites right away.
- Hosting? Again, I'm not technical, so I don't know if this is what I need, or the right terminology. Currently I own a domain that redirects to my wordpress blog, but that's about it. I have no problem (and would actually prefer, probably) with getting a fresh new url for this venture.
- Cost. While I'm not independently wealthy, I do have a few dollars to throw at this problem. Would like to pay one point of contact a reasonable rate for the new url, setting up the chat, telling me how it works, and then I'm assuming a monthly hosting fee?
- Speed. Would like to have this all set up by Friday (6/1) latest.
posted by spinturtle to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Campfire might be close to what you're looking for, but I've never used it so I can't be sure. It definitely has user colors, history, and picture sharing.

It's also not cheap. it starts at 12 bucks a month for 12 users, and 24 bucks for 25 users. Maybe you could pass the hat around and amortize the cost across your group.
posted by Sokka shot first at 2:30 PM on May 28, 2012


Is there a particular reason, say anonymity, you wouldn't use a Facebook group for this? It has chat, slightly more rudimentary, but with many of the aspects you are looking for covered by other features of the group. My similar setup just made the move.
posted by Iteki at 2:38 PM on May 28, 2012


Campfire is a web-based group chat tool that lets you set up password-protected chat rooms in just seconds.
- To clarify, I don't want to set up instance-specific rooms at the drop of a hat. I want one (or two. max) permanent rooms that are always available to members.
- Total membership would be less than 20
- Regarding cost, we're able to pay around $100 (?) for initial setup, and then up to $40/month for monthly maintenance.

Iteki, not all of our membership is on Facebook, and the people not already on are not likely to join anytime soon.
posted by spinturtle at 2:42 PM on May 28, 2012


if it helps...I've found realchat and siteground, but I can't tell if they would offer the features and setup that I need. Anyone have experience with either?
posted by spinturtle at 3:14 PM on May 28, 2012


I actually think Campfire would work well for you. You can have one or several permanent rooms set up and have them be accessible by invitation only. You access it via a static webpage (yourgroupname.campfirenow.com), it has chat history/transcripts, a pretty decent search function, and allows image uploads. I do not, however, believe that it has user colors - your own contributions are distinctly colored, but everyone else's contributions look the same.

I'm not the admin of the Campfire group where I hang out, but I get the impression that it's pretty easy to administrate. There is a free plan that you can sign up for, in order to try it out with a small group, and then you can upgrade to the paid plan if you like it.

Good luck.
posted by gemmy at 5:38 PM on May 28, 2012


phpMyChat still exists. Whether it's the best option, I don't know.

It sounds like your privacy concern is that you want the chat to be closed and open only to invited users and that you're willing to use a third party service. I think Mibbit will get the job done for you. Or IRC in general. I mention Mibbit because it has a web interface (I believe you can use that interface to connect to other servers). The one thing you won't get is pictures. I think IRC's /lastlog command will give you the history you need, though I'm not certain.

IRC Cloud is some (currently, temporarily) free service that lets you stay logged in to IRC even if you're not actually online.
posted by hoyland at 5:46 PM on May 28, 2012


Hmm... a bit wrong about that /lastlog business. It seems the feature is still there. You'd have to read the documentation a bit more to figure out if it'd work for you.
posted by hoyland at 5:58 PM on May 28, 2012


We use the tragically named HipChat at work. It fits most of your criteria: you can use any web browser, can see previous chat history for an admin set value (ours is forever at the moment), you get a static HipChat page and is ONLY by invite. I can't say how easy it is to admin, but since it's hosted I'm guessing the admin part is easy. It's $2 a month per user, so it also fits your price parameter. You can try it for a month and see.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:12 PM on May 28, 2012


My company switched from Skype (not bad as a free text chat with invite only rooms option, but no browser UI) to HipChat a couple of months ago, and we really like it; the browser UI is pretty good and there are desktop and mobile clients available. The history/search feature is very good. You get a static subdomain. ('yourorganizationname.hipchat.com') Like fiercekitten I haven't seen the admin side of things, but I expect it's mostly browser-based and probably pretty straightforward.

RE CampFire: After our HipChat trial period expired we decided to try CampFire. We all haaaaated it instantly, and within an hour or two we had taken the plunge and signed up for a paid HipChat account. $2 per person per month, so your budget would accommodate up to 20 people.
posted by usonian at 10:59 AM on May 29, 2012


Hipchat seems to be the thing. We've got 4 of us testing right now, and everyone is pleased. Thank you!
posted by spinturtle at 2:18 PM on May 29, 2012


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